Posted on Sat 04 February 2017

Thoughts on switching to Android

A while ago I wrote about my experience testing out Android as I'd started thinking about switching over from iOS.

When the Google Pixel phones were released in October I did end up making the switch to Android. Since I'm using Android full-time now, and I have a brand new phone to test it on (I previously used an old Nexus 4 we had in the house to get a feel for Android, but it was a bit slow and had no SIM card so I couldn't take it out of the house), I thought this would be a good time to share my thoughts on the experience so far.

The phone

I have a 128GB Very Black Pixel (not the XL variety). It's a little bigger than the iPhone 6s I switched from, but not too much. The experience of ordering through Google was definitely sub-par, especially in comparison to ordering directly from Apple the previous year. In the future I'll be sure to head to a retail outlet like JB Hi-Fi on launch day rather than deal with the Google Store.

But I love this phone. It's a little wide for my hands, which makes it awkward to use one-handed when I'm out-and-about, because I have to lay it on my open (right) hand without any fingers curved around the left side to secure it in order to reach all of the keyboard with my thumb. For a bigger hand it wouldn't be a problem.

The fingerprint sensor is way more reliable than the iPhone 6s. By the time I quit using my iPhone, it was taking two or three tries to unlock it with the fingerprint sensor every single time. It was slow and unreliable, even after taking the time to follow these instructions (which did help a little). In particular, having a little moisture on my fingers would make the sensor struggle to read my fingerprint. I get sweaty hands in hot weather so this was a huge pain point for me. The Pixel, however, rarely struggles to read my fingerprint, even with sweaty hands. I'm extremely impressed.

The only thing that bugs me is that the sensor is on the back of the phone. It's pretty convenient when the phone is in my hand, but I tend to leave my phone lying on tables or my desk a lot, and I liked being able to unlock my iPhone without picking it up. To combat this, though, Android lets me pair my phone to Bluetooth devices or locations and keep it unlocked unless those locations/devices are out of range, which means at home, or whenever I have my Fitbit on, I only have to swipe up on the screen to unlock the phone anyway.

The on-screen/haptic buttons were one of the biggest drawcards of Android for me. I really hate physical buttons, and detested the iPhone home button. I would always use the incredibly awkward gesture on my 6s of pushing down (3D Touch) on the left side of the screen (furthest from my thumb, since I'm right-handed, so one of the most awkward places to try to push hard) and swiping to enter multi-tasking mode. That's how much I didn't want to double-click that button.

And the haptic buttons are doing their job. They're even better than I'd expected, actually, since I can now also double-tap the square button to quickly switch back to the previous app I was using. I use this all the time. It's something I used to jailbreak my iPhones for, because quick switching is so handy, and even better without pushing physical buttons. I'm still getting used to the back button, because developers don't implement it consistently‚ÄĒsometimes it goes back to where you were on the phone (e.g. a previous app or the homescreen) and sometimes it goes back inside an app (e.g. to a previous screen).

Nougat and the Pixel combined are definitely a play for Android to be more like iOS, and coming from an iPhone, that makes me happy. Nougat has brought features to my Pixel that I liked about my iPhone, such as long-press icon shortcuts (à la 3D Touch icon shortcuts). It's also brought some other features I'm excited about, such as raising to wake my phone, double-pressing the power button to open the camera (I hate that it's a physical button, but I love that it saves a space on my homescreen since I don't need the Camera app there), and double-tapping the screen to wake it up.

What I love so far

I've talked a bit about the good and the bad, but here are some more specific things I really like about Android and my Pixel phone so far.

  • Interacting with notifications feels smoother than on iOS. Especially with the iOS 10 update, I found notification interactions on iOS a bit clunky, but I quite enjoy them on Android.
  • 1Password works pretty well. I guess I don't love this, because the keyboard hack doesn't feel as smooth as the share extension hack on iOS, but hey, I get my passwords into forms most of the time so it does the job.
  • Sharing works as well as on iOS. It's different, but no better or worse.
  • The notification light is handy, since I pick up my phone to check for notifications less often.
  • I really love haptic keyboard feedback. I'm not sure why, but if I turn it off now I really miss it.
  • Night light. Of course it's just a copy of f.lux, but I love having it built-in to my phone since I was used to Night Shift on iOS and previously the open-source version of f.lux for iOS before it got shut down.
  • Keyboards! The keyboards are rubbish on iOS and so much better on Android. In fact, the default keyboard, now called Gboard, is excellent. It's way better than the iOS version because it has swipe to delete, long-press for numbers and punctuation, multiple languages at the same time, and swipe to type.

Apart from all that, my main issue with Android is the same thing that sent me back to iOS years ago: the apps. As cross-platform web-based services have become more popular a lot of the apps I rely on have solid clients for both iOS and Android. And besides that, Android developers have been improving their app designs and material design has helped a lot. But I still find there are app categories where there's little to choose from, most of the apps look horrible, and I really can't find anything I'm happy with. Those categories are fewer than they were years ago but there are still enough for it to bug me.

P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

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